Hornets look to keep building momentum
By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER — There were some mixed emotions amongst members of Shenandoah University’s football team following last Saturday’s 29-20 win over rival Bridgewater.
Of course there was the excitement surrounding the Hornets’ first-ever Old Dominion Athletic Conference victory, which was a monumental stride for Shenandoah under first-year head coach Scott Yoder.
But there was also the realization that the win was just a small step towards the Hornets’ ultimate goal. Moments after last weekend’s win, many Shenandoah players had already shifted their focus to this afternoon’s 1 p.m. road contest at Guilford.
“I’m not going to lie, we’re really happy from Saturday night. We just finally get to see change. But our mood hasn’t changed,” Hornets junior defensive end Ian Griffin said on Wednesday. “That was a win, but that’s over now. Now it’s back to work. That was a good win, but that didn’t win us anything. We have bigger goals.”
Shenandoah (2-2, 1-0 ODAC), a team that went winless in its first tour through ODAC play last season, now finds itself with a great opportunity in a surprisingly important early-season conference game against the Quakers.
Guilford (2-2, 1-0) is coming off an upset win of its own, as the Quakers beat Washington and Lee, 16-7, last Saturday. Now, two teams that were picked to finish in the bottom half of the conference in the preseason poll suddenly have a chance to stake an early claim for the ODAC’s top spot.
“I think the number one thing is this is going to be a great game because you’ve got two teams that everybody is surprised that we’re in the position,” Yoder said. “[Tonight], either Guilford or Shenandoah is going to be 2-0 in the league and be No. 1 in the ODAC. I think a month ago if you weren’t in the heart of Winchester … or Greensboro [N.C.], I think you could’ve raised a lot of eyebrows by saying that.”
On paper Shenandoah and Guilford appear very similar, and the interior structures of the two programs are also comparable, as Yoder said the Quakers are “about a year or two ahead of where we are in this whole transition” under third-year head coach Chris Rusiewicz.
Yoder pointed out that Guilford relies on some younger players at key positions, much like Shenandoah does. That’s particularly true on offense, as Quakers starting quarterback Matt Pawlowski and running back Josh Schow (586 rush yards, 7 TDs) are both sophomores.
Pawlowski, the 2012 ODAC Rookie of the Year, has drawn plenty of attention from Yoder and the Hornets’ defense for his ability to make plays with his feet when the initial play breaks down, an ability that Yoder said “makes nightmares for defensive coordinators.”
Pawlowski has completed 67 of 123 passes for 791 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. The sophomore has also rushed for 188 yards on 38 carries.
Yoder likened Pawlowski to Ferrum quarterback Tim Reynolds, whom Shenandoah saw earlier this season, and the Hornets will employ a similar defensive game plan for Pawlowski this afternoon.
Shenandoah is coming off its best defensive performance of the season last weekend, as the Hornets sacked Bridgewater quarterback Willie Logan six times. Continuing that pressure will be important for Shenandoah against Pawlowski.
“We just need to hit him,” Hornets sophomore cornerback Bayvon Young said. “Ferrum’s quarterback was a mobile quarterback, and we hit him. The key is pressure and bringing him to the ground.”
On offense, the Hornets will look to build off of last weekend’s performance in which they were able to move the ball effectively, especially early on as Shenandoah scored on four of its first five offensive possessions against Bridgewater.
Yoder had yet to decide on a starter at quarterback as of Wednesday afternoon, but freshman Justin Neff (47-for-77, 524 yards, 4 TDs) and junior Drew Ferguson (32-for-60, 303 yards, 3 TDs, 3 INTs) will continue to share snaps.
Shenandoah expects to see some familiar looks from Guilford this afternoon, as Yoder said the Quakers will show a scheme similar to what the Hornets saw from Bridgewater last Saturday.
“They live and die by the blitz, and they like to play a lot of man coverage, so cover 1, cover 0, stuff like that. Pretty much all across the board they like to cover the receivers,” said Hornets running back Andrew Smith, who has rushed for 388 yards and three touchdowns this season. “[Offensive coordinator Stan] Hodgin has some different plays to pretty [much] say that our athletes are better than your athletes out there on the corner and that we can catch the ball in your man coverage.”
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD